Ear infections and other ear disorders are extremely common in domestic dogs and can be caused by a number of unrelated conditions. Fortunately, they are not particularly difficult to diagnose. Still, it is important for owners who think that their dog may have an ear problem to take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible, so that the condition can be evaluated and properly addressed. The initial data base for a dog showing signs of ear discomfort includes a thorough history and a comprehensive physical examination. The veterinarian will ask the owner detailed questions about the dog’s symptoms, including when they started and whether they have stayed about the same, waxed and wane or gotten worse. He also will be interested to learn about any dietary or environmental changes, such as a change in kibble, recent carpet cleaning, lawn fertilization or recent travel. During the physical examination, the veterinarian will look carefully for ulcers, wounds, sores, redness, swelling, abnormal waxy build-up, impacted debris, tumors, external parasites or other observable evidence of possible causes of the dog’s discomfort. He probably will gently take samples from both of the ear flaps and outer ear canals using sterile swabs; these samples will be submitted to a laboratory for microscopic examination and possibly for culture and sensitivity. This assessment will help to identify or rule out the presence of any abnormal bacterial, yeast, fungal or other microorganisms and to assess cellular signs of inflammation, infection, parasitic infestation or other diagnostic evidence. Many veterinarians will also take blood and urine samples for a complete blood count, serum biochemistry profile and urinalysis as part of the initial database. The results of these tests can detect infection, anemia and a number of other abnormalities, if they are present.
A number of more advanced diagnostic procedures can also be used, depending on the results of the initial veterinary evaluation. These may include one or more of the following:
- Examining the ear using an otoscope, after the dog has been sedated or put under general anesthesia; especially valuable to assess whether the ear drum (tympanic membrane) is ruptured or intact
- Taking a biopsy of affected ear tissues
- Conducting a thorough dermatalogical (skin) examination
- Taking radiographs (X-rays) of the skull
- Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) of the skull
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head
- Conducting a thorough neurological examination
- Performing a brainstem auditory-evoked response test (BAER) to identify any hearing deficits
- Testing for the presence of allergies (elimination diet trials; intradermal or serum-specific allergy testing; others)
Canine ear problems should be taken seriously, despite their frequency in companion dogs. While most of these ear disorders typically are not difficult to diagnose or to treat, they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, and other serious problems, if they are not detected and managed promptly and promptly.